Gamification in E-Learning – Are you really learning?

Posted by

I’m an addict.

An addict for games. Not just any type of game mind you, rather one that I can win at.  I readily admit to playing my Xbox 360 late into the night forgetting that I have to rise and shine early.

I admit that I tell myself that I am only going to spend an hour on my iPad playing Plague and then realize that three hours have gone by and I still haven’t decimated the planet with my new disease.

By the Numbers

If you have been calculating the points while viewing the stats you would have seen:

  • Gamification market will reach 2.8 Billion dollars by 2016 (M2 Research)
  • 70% of the Global 2000 will have at least one gamified application by 2014 (Gartner)
  • 53% believe that by 2020, gamification will be wide spread (Pew Research Center, based on those surveyed)

You also have probably read (not sure if you received any points) that gamification is the next big thing in e-learning.  

I’m here to tell you that what you are hearing isn’t wrong, it’s just plain misleading.

Gamification – What some say it is – isn’t what others claim it is

Take a look at the following:


It says, “This is not a pipe”.  You say, “wait it is a pipe”.  But it isn’t (if you know what it is, place it in the comments section).

So, how does this apply to gamification?

It applies because the term itself can be easily misconstrued by others.

Some people define gamification in the e-learning space as games themselves – sim games for tests, or games for learning.  Others define gamification in relation to online gaming, like World of Warcraft – which is accurate – this is why some of the numbers above are misleading. 

Because what they are not saying is that gamification in e-learning will be billions of dollars by 2020.

Not at all.

But that doesn’t mean gamification cannot exist nor work, effectively – on the contrary – it can.

Incentive Points = Learning

I recall a few years back talking to a vendor whose product included incentive points for their learners.  They told me that their clients (customers) were stating that they were seeing a huge uptick in learners completing courses and thus achieving more incentive points (which led to them winning gift cards).

The clients who told them that had wrongly assumed that by the learners completing the course or task, were actually learning and retaining information.

While I am sure some folks were, the majority I surmise were not.

That is because I believe – just based on human nature – that people realized that the more points they received, the faster to the goal of winning whatever and thus it was all about the points and not the content.

If I had to go through a course in two weeks to receive 25 points and I needed 100 points to get a prize – then I am going to zip through to get those points.  How much will I retain is another matter. 

Especially if the objective is tied to completing via a linear method – which sort of defeats the purpose of WBT to begin with – i.e. a non-linear approach.

If I have to read 10 comments by my fellow learners to get 50 points and it is again tied to a tangible incentive – guess what? I’m reading – but more likely I’m skimming.  Sure, some people won’t do it, but overall depending on what do they win – if it is good – then they will do it.    If I have a competitive nature to begin with and work for example in sales, where incentives come into play in general, what do you think I will do?

We don’t need no stinking badges 

Gamification can be effective is used properly, but it has to go beyond just a leader board and has to go beyond just accruing points for the sake of badges.

Badges are great in various social media, but getting a badge because you completed five tasks and completed two courses in less than a week, is not.

There has to be a real gain and benefit to the learner, the training/learning department/division and the company itself.

Even in education there has to be real value – real attainment to a learning goal or objective.

I’d rather have a learner understand and synthesize the information and validate it in a real life course scenario to accrue the points than just have them zip through a course to do so.

Even those who tie the “points” to an assessment are missing the point. An assessment or test is not fun.  Gamification in learning must be fun and must be applicable to real world (especially in adults).

If you offer neither than your points and point totals are as useful as those crummy toys you would get at a carnival. 

What motivates me, may not motivate you

Let me be clear on this – I think gamification can rock and I am a huge believer in incentives tied to learning, especially in education/academia. However, I am not a believer that everyone sees it the same way when it comes to incentives.  The reason your gamification may not be achieving the ideal results you are seeking, could be:

  • Everyone has different motivators – some people are motivated by tangible items, some by money, some by praise
  • A motivator is tied to an incentive. If I am motivated by tangible items (excluding your company’s coffee mug) or money – then I am more likely to complete the tasks/courses/social things required to achieve so
  • If I am not an “A” personality or do not see the value and benefit of the whole gamification, then I won’t be involved

Even if I am forced (also known as mandatory) to do the gamification components, I won’t retain the information because I don’t want to – it easily can become a game 0f how to not do things.

But if I am either a highly competitive person or the company has instilled a competitive atmosphere – you can guarantee that people will maximize the gamification of the platform.  

The total score though is whether I have actually learned is the information itself or just getting the points for being active and fast.


Having a LMS or learning platform that has some form or massive amounts of gamification just won’t cut it.  You have to make it fun.

For whatever reason, I see a lot of platforms that are not “fun” when it comes to gamification capabilities.  Partially it is tied to the client who is setting up the courses, tasks, etc., and part of it is the LMS.

If you play any type of game – whether it is online or not, you do it to have fun.  So why would you think someone wouldn’t want the same experience?

Gamification is coming. But it is not going to be an immediate blockbuster because it still has some bugs to solve.

And everyone knows that a game with bugs in it, is no fun at all.

E-Learning 24/7


    1. I think you are correct in many ways, but gamification as related to LMSs is leaderboards, badges, etc. – but there is no reason you cannot apply or create a gaming experience in a LMS and still do the other – it just comes down to doing it right and understanding your learners. If you are successful and understanding training and thus people themselves, then it should be simple to do. It’s just for whatever reason, people see gamification as incentive points towards a reward – and it has to be more than that.

      1. Good point Craig. We always see the objective of a game as ‘winning’ and when winning the game isn’t in line with learning retention, I agree that the point of the reward is missed. Thanks for your feedback.

  1. Craig, you have brought out the pluses and minuses in a fun way.

    It all comes down to design. Game design elements ought to find compelling application within the overall design of the learning program. Without which, it could get stuck with Points and Badges.

  2. Hi Craig, agree with your assessment here. The ‘gamification LMSs’ mentioned in this post seem to me to be just another tacky gimmick from LMS vendors to prey on those chasing the latest learning fad. Extrinsic rewards like prizes, points, badges not linked to the target activity/objective have been shown to damage intrinsic motivation, which is why they don’t work long term – and can often do more harm than good. I think if you’re wanting people to be more engaged in LEARNING it makes more sense to gamify the actual learning content – not the system by which people access learning – cf. Karl Kapp’s concept of content gamification

  3. Great post – I mostly agree with what’s written. You’re right on – “gamification” through badges for completion isn’t much better than simply checking off a box for compliance training. I love the distinction you’ve made between “completion” and actual learning/retention. I do, however, disagree with your characterization of toys at a carnival – they’re not *all* crummy (plus, they serve to demonstrate I have some degree of skill at whatever game I’m playing – whether popping balloons or knocking over bottles with a softball or throwing a ring around a stick – badges for completion of an elearning course are simply offering recognition for someone being able to click through screens).

Comments are closed.